1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL SportLine R107

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL SportLine R107

After fulfilling his dream of R107 ownership, Tom Lee soon turned his attention to upgrades and has since created his perfect roadster with help from SL Shop.




This 1986 300SL R107 has undergone a transformation into something unique


The R107 Mercedes-Benz SL is arguably the most successful SL generation of all. With production spanning nigh on two decades, technology light years ahead of the Pagoda, more charisma than its R129 successor, and a global following helped by cameos in Hart to Hart, Dallas and many other shows, this SL has always been one of owner Tom Lee’s favourite cars. As he describes the 1971 to 1989 roadster, the R107 SL-Class is “one of the all-time classics”.

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL SportLine R107

Having previously owned a series of MGs and not being much of a fan of the W113 SL Pagoda following a less than impressive test drive in the 1990s, the time came to purchase this 300SL in 2011. An ongoing project since purchase, this 1986 car, finished in Signal Red over black leather, has undergone a transformation into something unique. Early into ownership, Tom found that he wanted something more from his SL. The ride height was “too high, too much like a boulevard cruiser” for his liking, and there was always the urge to manually go through the gears on twisting roads. It was at this point the car’s potential and the direction Tom wanted to take it became evident. First up was a complete respray, resulting in the excellent finish seen today, complemented by a renewed soft top. Further inspiration came when Tom saw a magazine featuring an SL in Germany wearing 15-inch Baroque-style alloy wheels. Sourcing these proved almost impossible until Tom discovered SL Shop’s SportLine enhancements.

Tom is planning a tour through Switzerland, Italy and the Alps later in the year

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL SportLine R107

Tom reports that R107 300SL is now far sprightlier and responsive

Tom’s enquiry led to the fitment of a SportLine suspension package complete with adjustable dampers. This is the most noticeable modification to the car and, with the ride height tuned front and back, the stance of this SL now exudes much more intent. The ride is firmer, with little in the way of body roll, and although purists may not be supportive of this modification, the upgrade lets the R107’s considerable chassis talents shine through more readily. Sitting inside, the 300SL feels very low to the ground indeed and the original, soft cruiser feel has definitely subsided.

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL SportLine R107

There have been changes to the cabin, too. One of Tom’s first modifications was swapping the original steering wheel for a smaller one from a W201 190E, purchased for just £35 from ebay, which was then re-trimmed in leather in-keeping with the SL’s upmarket status. The stereo is a brand new Blaupunkt Bremen SQR46 DAB digital radio with Bluetooth that sports a pleasing retro appearance.

More significant though is the new, six-speed Getrag manual gearbox developed and installed by SL Shop. It is instrumental in this 300SL’s transformation, to say the least. With six gears and a short throw, it’s a livelier affair than the standard four-speed auto, strong and dependable though that unit is. Tom was keen to avoid a second hand manual Mercedes transmission given their reputation for having long throws and being rather clunky. The additional ratios of the new Getrag ’box also mean lower revs at motorway speeds; an estimated drop from around 3,000rpm to 2,000rpm sounds ideal, as does the improved fuel efficiency.

The end result is a car which demands positive, dynamic driving. Whereas the traditional four-speed auto is designed for autobahn cruising and slushing about town, the new six-speeder encourages its operator to work through the gears and just have fun with it, even though it’s perfectly happy in those environments too.

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL SportLine R107

At the factory, this 300SL was originally fitted with the M103 2,962cc, in-line six-cylinder engine producing 185bhp. However, the original motor’s performance was particularly lacklustre, struggling up hills and generally feeling down on power. The reason for this was not completely clear, though there was a large amount of soot in the exhaust system. So rather than having the six-cylinder rebuilt, Tom sourced a replacement from a W124 300E. There’s little difference between these engines – just 3lb ft of torque, in fact.

Tom reports that his 300SL is now far sprightlier and responsive, the stainless steel exhaust emitting a sonorous rasping that can be heard from quite some distance away. Acceleration is more aggressive than stock too, in part helped by that close-ratio Getrag ’box. However, the brakes remain standard as they’ve proven powerful enough. Light on its toes and with power restored, this 300SL is proof that six-cylinder R107s need not be considered lesser alternatives to the V8s.

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL SportLine R107 - engine

True to its name

This particular SL carries just some of the SportLine modifications offered by SL Shop. A full-on, hard core SportLine conversion adds cosmetic modifications along with a limitedslip differential, engine tuning with power and torque increases, a full stainless steel exhaust including the manifold, plus various SportLine themed interior appointments. Tom’s 300SL is a more personal project, a running restoration improving over time. His 300SL captures the essence of the SportLine while retaining a largely standard appearance.

This project is about tweaking and improving the original recipe while preserving the classic Mercedes looks and charm. Indeed, the original parts removed from the car have all been retained. The advantage of Tom’s running restoration is that, despite now having covered 130,000 miles, his SL is improving and in a sense becoming younger as time goes by.

So, what does the future have in store for this R107? Tom is planning to use the car more regularly, as well as tour through Switzerland, Italy and the Alps later in the year. Not forgetting some fi ne-tuning. The bright red SL has become part of Tom’s family and selling it is not on the cards. It also makes for quite a contrast with the Volvo Amazon that Tom is taking care of for a relative. The life of this 300SL is a refreshing change from those of numerous R107s stowed away as investments. Such museum pieces are important for preserving the SL’s history, but others that chase adventures and burst with backstories are just as important. Tom’s R107 revitalises the model’s image with new ideas, placing far greater emphasis on the ‘Sport’ in Sport Leicht than the standard car while catering for a keener driver. That’s something we will always celebrate at Mercedes Enthusiast.

Lowering springs give a meatier stance.

Original motor had problems so new one found.

Owner Tom Lee has made this 300SL his own.

7x15-inch SportLine Bundt alloy wheels.

Smaller wheel from 190E W201 covered in black leather.Short ratio six-speed manual made by Getrag.

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